Published on November 21st, 2014 | by Samantha Levine


Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

In the minds of most Americans, several things are associated with the Thanksgiving holiday: turkey, stuffing, football, parades, a shortened work week, etc. It’s seen as a time to step back, relax, and spend time with family members who we maybe haven’t seen in a while, and that truly is great.

We should also be mindful of the history behind the Thanksgiving feast, and not just to show off what we know at the dinner table. It really is important! Most of us have an image in mind of a group of concerned-looking pilgrims sitting to a meal with their hosts, the Native Americans, eating much of the same fare as we do on this day each year. But the history of that meal, and the feast’s transformation from a local to nationally-recognized holiday is an impressive one that should be told in detail.ship

A ship named the Mayflower left England in September of 1620, filled with over a hundred individuals seeking a land where they might live and practice their religion in peace.  They landed in North America sometime in December, and ended up landing further North (think Massachusetts rather than New York) than they had expected to. One can only imagine how difficult of a winter it was for the pilgrims. At least half of them were lost by March.

After March, when the pilgrims began to establish their colony, they were paid a visit by a Native American man who spoke to them in English. This man and his people helped the pilgrims to survive in their new home- to cultivate local crops, which materials to use in building, and other key things. To celebrate this early alliance, the pilgrims, who were still struggling yet managing to get by, and Native Americans planned the feast in the fall of 1621 that would eventually become the holiday we all know and love.

deerInterestingly, that feast did not look anything like it does today. Cakes and desserts were non-factors, there was some turkey but much more deer to eat, and the meal lasted a total of three days. It makes you wonder, why in the world did we cut it down to one?

Those pilgrims, and many colonists throughout the region, went on to celebrate that original feast by holding similar ones each year. In fact, it was so widespread that George Washington even called for a feast for his soldiers during the Revolutionary War. But colonies and even towns celebrated the feast on different days, and celebrated differently. Some still did not celebrate the feast at all. Throughout the first half of the 19th century, Thanksgiving was not the national holiday we know today.

It took the stern will of President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, at the height of the American Civil War, to move Thanksgiving into the realm of national holidays. President Lincoln declared the final Thursday of November as Thanksgiving Day nationwide, giving the country something of a respite, even if for only a few days, from that horrible war. And there it has been since (except for a couple of years between 1939-41, but that’s another story), a reminder that even in the worst of times we as Americans will not fail to remember where we have come from, and take the time to celebrate with those we love most.

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About the Author

Samantha Levine is a freelance writer for Magazine Discount Center. In her free time she enjoys cooking, traveling, and reading in coffee shops.

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